Emergencies and Disasters and HIV

Content From: HIV.govUpdated: January 5, 20245 min read


HIV medicine must be taken every day, exactly as prescribed. Plan ahead so you don't miss any doses.

Emergency Preparedness: What Do People with HIV Need to Know?

All Americans should have a plan for what to do during a hurricane, wildfire, or other emergency. But for people with HIV, it’s especially important to be prepared.

Plan ahead. To stay healthy, people with HIV must take HIV medicine (called antiretroviral therapy or ART) exactly as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load—a level of HIV in your blood so low that a standard lab test can’t detect it. A natural disaster or other emergency may make it harder for you to do this. To avoid interruptions in your HIV treatment, ask your health care provider if you can get a 30-day (or longer) emergency prescription refill of your HIV medicine. Some states permit coverage for advanced refills of prescription medicine during an emergency, but laws vary by state. Learn more about Emergency Prescription Laws in your state.

Thanks to effective HIV treatment, the number of older adults living with HIV is increasing.
Source: emergency.CDC.gov

Make a list of medicines and gather other medical paperwork. Keep a list of your HIV medicines and any others you take, their dosage amounts, and frequency, and a summary of your HIV treatment history in case you have to see another provider temporarily. Make sure you have a copy of your insurance card and the phone numbers for your providers and pharmacies.

Communicate with your provider. Talk to your healthcare provider about what you should do if you run out of medicine due to an emergency. In addition, in the event of an outbreak of a disease (like the flu), ask your provider whether you need to take specific precautions because you have HIV. See information about COVID-19 below.

Follow safety guidelines. Be aware that some types of disasters may affect air and water quality—which can be even harder on people with HIV and others with weakened immune systems. If you have HIV, disruptions in the availability of food and clean water can increase your risk for opportunistic infections. If proper sanitation and hygiene are an issue, it’s important to follow proper food and water safety guidelines. See CDC’s information on keeping food and water safe after a disaster or emergency. Also follow local guidance about exercise and going outside on days with poor air quality. See CDC’s information on protecting yourself during wildfire season.

Wash your hands. Regular handwashing with soap and clean water is the best way to remove germs that can make you and others sick. If you don’t have soap and clean water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Stay up to date on your vaccines. Make sure your vaccines for infections and illnesses such as tetanus and seasonal flu are up to date. Know the date of your last tetanus shot in case of injury in an emergency. (Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines, below.)

Learn how you can get emergency prescription assistance. The Department of Health and Human Service’s Emergency Prescription Assistance Program may be activated after a disaster. It is a free service that helps people in a federally-identified disaster who do not have health insurance get the prescription drugs, vaccinations, medical supplies, and equipment that they need. Visit PHE.gov/EPAP for details.

COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness

During emergencies, people with chronic health conditions can face special health challenges, particularly if local COVID-19 hospital admissions levels are high. Here are some actions you can take to stay healthy:

Get vaccinated for COVID-19. CDC recommends everyone—including people with HIV—stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines for their age group. According to CDC, here’s what you need to know:

* People aged 12 years and older who have not previously gotten any COVID-19 vaccine doses and choose to get Novavax should get 2 doses of updated Novavax vaccine to be up to date.

Learn more about CDC's vaccine recommendations.

If you have questions about getting COVID-19 vaccine and whether it is right for you, talk to your health care provider.

Visit vaccines.gov or call 1-800-232-0233 to find a COVID-19 vaccine near you.

Understand your COVID-19 risk, and the risks that might affect others so that you can make decisions to protect yourself and others.

Follow CDC’s recommended COVID-19 preventive actions.

Resources to Help You Plan Ahead

There are many resources to help you prepare for emergencies and disasters:

Help with Recovery

During and after a disaster, it is natural to experience different and strong emotions. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family, and your community recover from a disaster.

The Disaster Distress Helpline supports people who need crisis counseling after experiencing a traumatic event or disaster. Counselors are trained to offer immediate support to people who may be experiencing a range of symptoms. Call or text 1-800-985-5990. Or visit: disasterdistress.samhsa.gov.

CDC provides resources for Coping with a Disaster or Traumatic Event, along with Coping with Stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also offers many resources to help Americans who are recovering from an emergency or disaster.